Reinvent Yourself . . . especially with a short runway

Doolittle raid

 People who cannot invent and reinvent themselves must be content with borrowed postures, secondhand ideas, fitting in instead of standing out. ~Warren Bennis

pearl harborOne of my favourite movies is the 2001 epic war film, Pearl Harbor,  starring Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and with Alec Baldwin as Col. Jimmy Doolittle. There is a particular scene in the movie that stands out for me as containing an important message not only for each of us an individuals, but also for business organizations.

In trying to decide how to counter the devastating sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Doolittle and his team come up with a daring plan to bomb Tokyo and other key Japanese cities, thus showing the Japanese war machine that the US was still strong, capable and determined.  The problem was how to get bombers to Japan from a safe location, especially given a limited fuel supply and range.  The solution? Launch them from an aircraft carrier in the Pacific 500 miles off the coast of Japan.

Brilliant idea, but seemingly impossible, since the flight deck of an aircraft carrier at that time was shorter than the normal B-25 take-off length required.

The solution, reinvent the B-25 Bomber!  To do this, they stripped out all unnecessary extra B-25's En Route to Tokyoequipment and weight, loaded only 4 – 500 pound bombs, added extra fuel tanks for the long journey and a crew of 5.  Then they practiced short-field take-off techniques in Florida before loading 16 planes onto the USS Hornet in San Francisco harbor for the highly secret voyage across the Pacific.

The result was a significant morale boost for the US military and an action which forced the Japanese to change their war strategy and beef-up their homeland defense, at the expense of continuing to press their previously successful Pacific conquests. The rest is history, as they say!

Insights and Applications:

There are many highly experienced business executives and managers who are approaching the age where retirement is traditional, and getting hired again is extremely difficult.  In essence, they are running out of runway!  They don’t have 20 years to devote to a company, but on the other hand have well over 30+ years of experience and knowledge learned by doing, not by reading books.  Yet most companies are looking for younger talent with new ideas and a “longer runway”.

When the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change inside, the end is in sight!  ~Jack Welch

The same is true of many businesses today.  The world is getting smaller and the pace of change faster and faster.  And competition is coming from all directions, even from outside your traditional industry.  How to keep up? How to stay ahead?

The solution? Reinvent yourself!  Think like Colonel Doolittle. Take your core strengths, strip away the no longer required, and morph into a valuable, lean mean machine that is all about adding value.  Lose some weight and get your energy and creativity back.

How big is your company headquarters? Radically reduce it, push accountability out.  How big is your monthly living budget? Cut it back.  Live simply. Read outside your field.  Use your knowledge from one industry or profession to come up with ideas to help solve challenges in another company or industry. Believe in your people.  Believe in yourself.  What you have learned along life’s journey has value. Figure out how to use it.

One of my earliest and most influential tutors about life and success used to say:

“The next time you see me, you won’t be able to say ‘Here comes the same old Tom Willhite’! I will always be changing, evolving, learning and doing new things.”

Yet I see too many capable executives and managers who keep doing the same thing over and over, and loving it less and less.  I see too many corporations just marginally improving their products rather than reinventing them for new markets and a new consumer.

So, what are you waiting for?

Thanks for joining the conversation.

John R Childress

Senior Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution
Business Author
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

View my website:

Latest books:  LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture; FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution.

PS: John also writes thriller novels:



About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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